Writer: Tom Wells
Director: Caroline Leslie
The Kitchen Sink returns to London over a decade after its acclaimed debut at the Bush Theatre and it hasn’t aged a day. Hull playwright, Tom Wells, anchors the intimate drama in Withernsea, yet his down-to-earth depiction of small-town family life feels universal.
The play follows struggling parents, Kath and Martin, and their almost-grown children, Billy and Sophie, as they stumble through a year together. What feels particularly wholesome about this family drama is that there is a minimum of in-fighting. The family certainly bicker but it is clear that they ultimately care for one another and stand united whilst dealing with their individual frustrations from the outside world.
Martin (Ken Bradshaw) is struggling with his failing milk float business; Billy (Dominic Jones) wants to go to art school and have his work understood; Sophie (Matilda Tucker) wants her black belt or, failing that, a clear future; while Kath (Sally George) just wants to get everyone out of their rut and finish the year a bit better off than it started. The family are also regularly visited by Pete (Joseph Reed), Sophie’s sort-of boyfriend, and the family’s go-to plumber who, as the title suggests, is required fairly consistently.
This production impeccably blends playful comedy performances with grounded, tender moments of heartfelt connection. This is captured wonderfully by a brilliant display of physical comedy by Jones as Billy notices smoke pouring from the oven, which only moments later transforms into a vulnerable discussion with Kath about feeling ill-prepared to move away. A special nod also has to be given to George’s hilarious attempt to use chopsticks during one of the most tense family exchanges of the show.
In less careful hands, the piece could probably fall into sitcom territory with one dimensional archetypes such as ‘grumpy dad’, ‘angsty teen’, ‘stressed mum’; but the jokes would still land and everyone would have a fun night out. What is remarkable though, is director Caroline Leslie’s work with the cast on the deeper conversations of the piece, where the characters are most exposed.
Ironically, Billy discusses his frustration at people making deliberately ‘powerful’ art for the sake of seeming deep. This play is the antithesis to that; it feels so honest and down to earth, seeing characters crumbling under the everyday pressure of life yet persevering through the ‘you have to laugh or you’ll cry’ lens.
The set design by Zoë Hurwitz is perfect for the piece: a cluttered kitchen finished to minute detail, presented within a letterbox-shaped rectangle that cuts off the true height of the stage. It looks like a real-life kitchen has been teleported into the theatre, which is very fitting for the intimate, naturalistic piece.
The Kitchen Sink is no high-stakes drama, nor is it a complete farce, it sits within a realistic medium. The cast are incredibly strong and have done a stand-out job of bringing this humble tale to life and, without a doubt, you will leave the theatre with a touched heart and a lot to laugh about.
Runs until 2 April 2022